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How I learnt all about #understandingblackberries …..

It is the end of home grown summer fruit now… so sad, but it has lasted longer than usual this year with the mild autumn weather we have been having.  And among the last to leave the supermarkets were the blackberries.

Blackberries

I have always treated blackberries as wild foraged fruit, rather than fruit to buy in the supermarket, but lots of our foraged blackberry bushes finished very early, so I turned to cultivated varieties. To my surprise, this year’s fruit has been exceptionally large and sweet.   Why is this?

I discovered why when I was invited by Carol Ford of Growing Direct to the #UnderstandingBlackberries event held by Berry Buddies Hargreaves Plants to introduce the Reuben blackberry to a group of interested people.  I was thrilled to be included, most of the people who were invited were connected with the trade, either in a growing or selling capacity, or as a member of the specialist press.   I,  of course, am none of the above, but still found the event fascinating.  The deeply technical information from Prof John Clark of Arkansas University, and Jane Fairlie of Hargreaves Plants , was balanced by the fun of listening to the esteemed Peter Seabrook, who excited us all with stories of his work in schools, nurturing the next generation of gardeners.  The new Reuben blackberries are being created to grow and crop in one season, which will be perfect for introducing berries to schools, who need the children to be able to plant and harvest their crops within the confines of a single school year.

The Reuben blackberry is important to the consumer as it is sweeter, has a longer growing period, and resists mould.   Sweetness is good for a lot of people, although to be honest,  I like my berries on the tart side, but the resistance to mould is a real seller for me.  I have thrown so many raspberries and blackberries away just because I didn’t eat them in the short 1-2 day window you get from buying them to opening the fridge and finding them wet and starting to mould.

The Reuben  not only eats well as a dessert fruit, it cooks well too. The second half of #understandingblackberries kicked off with Vickie Humber from Humbers Homemade preserves showing just how simple it is to make good jam. Well, it is simple if you have the knack, and Vickie certainly has. ( Her Blackberry jam is truly delicious.  In fact it may knock Raspberry of its perch as my favourite jam.  Even in a Women’s Institute Victoria sponge it would be better than raspberry! )

Chef Jose Souto produced some fabulous muntjac deer with blackberry sauce, and a truly scrumptious blackberry and meringue semifreddo that could also be served as a mousse.  I could have eaten both again and again and again…

 

Blackberry Semifreddo

 

Rupert Parsons of Womersley Fruit Vinegars was with us too, offering tastings of his stunning award winning blackberry vinegar.  I have been a huge fan of Rupert’s family vinegars for a while now, they are brilliant as salad dressings and added to meat and fish to intensify the flavours.  Vickie of Humbers Homemade also produces a range of vinegars.  All of them are delicious – if you haven’t tried fruit vinegars yet, I must urge you to try.

Of course, in the best way of true food lovers, I felt that I had to try my hand at making vinegar too.  I might not get the same level of finesse as Rupert and Vickie  (after all, they are professional and have been making fruit vinegar for a lot longer than I have..) but it would be interesting to see how the flavours would differ.  And, not being one to do things in small ways, I decided to make a selection of three types of blackberry vinegar, all made using the same amount of fruit and vinegar,  roughly according to Pam Corbin’s recipe.   I used wild brambles, Loch Ness (culinary) blackberries and Reuben (dessert) blackberries.

I say roughly, she uses 600ml of vinegar to 1kg of fruit.  I made mine with 500g of fruit to 500 ml white wine vinegar, steeped for 10 days in a bowl covered in clingfilm, kept in the cool. After the 10 days, strain the vinegar through a jelly bag ( best left overnight in the same way as for jellies) and then add between 150-300g of sugar for every 500ml of strained vinegar (dependent on how sweet you like your vinegar).  Let the sugar dissolve, then boil for around 8-12 minutes until syrupy.   Don’t boil for any longer though, or you will end up with it concentrating and setting too much, more like jelly than syrup. (Don’t throw the strained blackberries out, add them to a pan of chopped crab or cooking apples to boil up to produce blackberry and apple juice for jelly, or add them into a favourite apple chutney recipe to add intense fruitiness.   Remember the frugality mantra.. waste NOTHING..)

It is heavenly stuff.   I love it with sparkling water as a refreshing drink, mixed with a little extra wine vinegar as a fat free salad dressing, spooned over meat as a glaze (in the way that Chef Jose glazed the venison) or mixed into gravies (in the same way that  classically trained chefs use a gastrique) to add depth and zing to the flavour.

It was interesting that the different blackberries did certainly add different things to the vinegars. I love the intense sweetness of the wild blackberries, but interestingly, many people found that too sweet and sour, and preferred the gentler vinegars made from the cultivated berries.

An interesting and highly educational evening, thank you to everyone.

Now….are you hungry?  So who’s for blackberry and apple crumble then?